Public space CCTV: research findings

This report presents findings from a mixed methods research project commissioned to better understand the provision and use of public space CCTV in Scotland.

6. Comparative Analysis: England and Wales and Denmark

To better understand the current provision and future direction for public space CCTV in Scotland, this study undertook a comparative analysis, examining public space CCTV in two comparable jurisdictions: England and Wales; and Denmark. While collecting survey and interview-based data, we conducted desk-based research simultaneously, analysing the research iteratively as our findings developed.

As detailed in Table 4, at mid-2021 Scotland’s population was 5,480,000, with a density of 70 people/km2 making it the most sparsely populated country in the UK (Office for National Statistics [ONS], 2022). However, with 91% of the population of Scotland residing in 2% of its land area in mid-2020 (NRSb, 2022), there are important geographic and demographic dynamics to consider in the provision of public space CCTV. Denmark's population is 5,932,654, which is relatively close to Scotland’s but due to the smaller size of the country, it has a higher population density of 137/km2 (Denmark Statistics [DS], 2023)

Table 4. Populations and number of CCTV cameras
Population estimates Population density (pop. Per sq. km) Estimated number of CCTV cameras (public and private) Estimated number of public space CCTV cameras
Scotland 5,480,000* 70* unknown unknown
UK 67,026,000* 276* 7.3 million** unknown
England 56,536,000* 434* unknown unknown
Wales 3,105,000* 150* unknown unknown
Denmark 5,932,654*** 137*** 1.5 million* 300,000*

*Mid-2021 rounded estimates (ONS, 2022); **2022 (Clarion Security Systems, 2022); ***2023 (DS, 2023)

The exact number of CCTV cameras in Scotland, other UK nations and Denmark is unknown. In the absence of precise figures, we turn to estimates and best available evidence. As per Table 4, for the UK as whole, one security company estimated that there were over 7.3 million cameras (both public and private CCTV) in 2022, equating to one CCTV camera for every 11 people (see Clarion Security Systems, 2022). The Danish trade association for safety and security estimates that there are approximately 300,000 public cameras in Denmark (, 2021). This number is likely to have risen since 2019 as a result of police and government co-investment of funds equal to £2 million in Danish public space CCTV - the purpose of this funding was the installation of more cameras (Ministry of Justice [Justitsministeriet], 2019; National Audit Office [Rigsrevisionen], 2021).

Overall, Denmark and Scotland have similar demographics and geography which leads to differences between urban and rural areas. England and Wales have important regulations that provide insight into the development and direction of CCTV technology in the UK. All the countries in this study rely on Public Space CCTV technology, but there is limited information about its usage.

6.1 Provision and objectives of public space CCTV in England and Wales

Although England, Wales, and Scotland are all part of the United Kingdom, there are overlapping national regulations and devolved regulations that are relevant to the provision and governance of public space CCTV across both jurisdictions. The provision of public space CCTV in England and Wales is currently under the supervision of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (BSCC). This was a role established by the Home Office in 2014 with the following remit: encouraging compliance with the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice (Home Office, 2013), proving advice on the effective, appropriate, proportionate, and transparent use of surveillance camera systems; providing advice on operational and technical standards; and, reviewing how the code of practice works and advising the government where any changes may be necessary.

UK parliamentary reforms are underway in readdressing the role and scope of the UK Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (BSCC) and Information Commissioner Office (ICO). According to the official blog for the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s Office, the new UK Data Protection and Information Bill could potentially ‘scrap’ the code of practice (Sampson, 2023).

Scottish local authorities and Police Scotland are obligated by the ICO to adhere to legislative requirements regarding the data captured by public space CCTV. Furthermore, under the DPA/GDPR, they have a legislative/regulatory remit for the whole of the UK, including Scotland (consisting of an independent office based in Edinburgh[8]). The ICO also provides specific guidance, updated in 2022[9], on the provision of public space systems, though this is being debated.

Scotland currently has no equivalent to the BSCC, and though there are Scottish national strategy guidelines from 2011, there is no Scottish Surveillance Code of Practice. Scotland established a Scottish Biometrics Commissioner in 2020, however, their remit does not include public space CCTV. The primary legislation governing Public Space CCTV in Scotland is the 2018 Data Protection Act. The ICO is the responsible body for overseeing the installation and registry of public space CCTV cameras. However, with the new UK Data Protection and Information Bill being negotiated in UK Parliament, the role of the ICO may change in England, Wales, and Scotland.

National surveillance objectives in England and Wales, according to the 2017 National Surveillance Camera Strategy for England and Wales, include guidance for public space CCTV provision and usage with a focus on developing better and more robust systems and processes between Police, Local Authorities and other relevant partners. The emphasis in this national strategy has been on collaborative and efficient working practices regarding the operation of surveillance cameras that prioritises communities (Surveillance Camera Commissioner, 2017). In Scotland, recent survey findings, including this study, suggest that there are disparities in how different stakeholders work together with regards to streamlining public space CCTV practices (SCSN, 2019).

6.1.1 Operation, maintenance and funding

The role of the BSCC in England and Wales is in concomitance with the independent official of the Information Commissioner Office, that oversees the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and best practices over data collecting tools, such as CCTV in public and private spaces. This involves also ‘more recent innovations such as dash cams and body worn video’ (BSCC, 2021: 24). Scotland has no direct equivalent role for oversight of public space CCTV such as the BSCC.

However, the latest national police survey undertaken by the UK Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner in 2022 suggests that in practice, there are disparities in how different stakeholders in England and Wales work together with regard to streamlining CCTV practices. This aligns with what has been found in practice in Scotland (see SCSN, 2019). Moreover, preliminary findings from a survey of English and Welsh Local Authorities over the use of public space CCTV in England and Wales showed overall little knowledge of the provision, manufacture and due diligence of their cameras use (BSCC, 2023b).

In 2002, the Home Office set aside £170m for public space CCTV initiatives which would be managed jointly by the Home Office, the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and the National Assembly for Wales. The partnerships included local authorities, police and businesses contributing to the arrangements. Local authorities are the primary holders of the budget expenses, managing cuts and investments of public taxpayer contributions and English and Welsh local authorities typically procure camera equipment via contracts with commercial partners.

Public funding of CCTV in England and Wales has been in decline for some time. In 2016, analysis of FOI responses from UK local authorities by Big Brother Watch (2016) found that there had been a 46.6% decrease in funding spent on the installation, maintenance and monitoring of public space CCTV by local authorities between 2012-2015 – from around £515m to approximately £277m. This disinvestment is indicative of the trend in some councils to switch off or reduce their CCTV provision (Big Brother Watch, 2016; Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner 2023a: 20).

However, new investment funds have been developed more recently to install new CCTV systems, such as the Safer Streets Fund set up by the UK Home Office in 2020 providing a ‘£25 million scheme to tackle burglary and theft in crime hotspots’ with funding aimed towards gates, lights and CCTV (see Home Office, 2020). The North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has been one of the latest recipients, receiving £1.5 million from the Safer Streets initiative in 2022. This funding supports projects in three towns and cities across Wales that aim to focus on reducing ‘domestic burglary, robbery, theft, vehicle crime, anti-social behaviour (ASB), and violence against women and girls (VAWG) in public spaces, including in the night-time economy’ (Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner North Wales, 2022).

6.1.2 Governance arrangements and compliance

In England and Wales, the independent oversight that the BSCC offers as a mechanism for standardised practice and more protection of privacy could benefit operators of public space CCTV and the public in Scotland.

Moreover, public space CCTV operators across England and Wales (as well as Scotland) must be licensed by the Security Industry Authority (SIA), and to obtain a license they must show that they have been appropriately trained in the operation of public space surveillance – the act of guarding premises, property or people by using CCTV equipment to watch members of the public or identify particular people. Valid nationwide, the SIA license is used by both manned and unmanned services, providing legal guidance on CCTV monitoring, as well as practical lessons on equipment and usage (Security Industry Authority, 2020).

SIA training is mandatory for all private security industry CCTV operators across the UK including Scotland, however, other types of training and certification are also recognised as additional industry standards by local authorities in some areas. The updated full list of SIA licence holders is publicly available.[10]

6.2 Public space CCTV: Lessons from England and Wales

The 2017 National Surveillance Camera Strategy for England and Wales provides guidance for collaboration between police, local authorities and other stakeholders, emphasising collaborative and efficient working practices. However, evaluations of the implementation of the 2017 strategy have not been found. Similarly, findings from the SCSN (2019) survey of the public space CCTV landscape in Scotland suggested a need for streamlining of CCTV practices between stakeholders (corresponding with survey findings from this report -see Section 4.8). Moreover, the decrease in funding reported in England and Wales from 2012-2015 has resulted in the reduction of CCTV provision (see Big Brother, 2016), the consequences of which are also relevant to findings from this study’s Scottish survey (see Section 4.7 and 4.8). This study’s survey respondents indicated that funding is vital for the continuation of public space CCTV to function well in Scotland.

While the role of the BSCC in England and Wales is changing (BSCC, 2023c: 11), and with new UK data protection legislation calling into question the role of the ICO, having independent oversight of public space CCTV is central to offering a transparent and coherent framework and code of practice and is something Scotland could learn from. Aided by the independent contributions of the BSCC, public space CCTV systems in England and Wales have benefited from new guidelines, new recommended industry standards, provision reviews across England and Wales in the form of annual surveys, and regular communication and recommendations from an independent authority to the national government on the use of CCTV technologies.

6.3 Provision and objectives of public space CCTV in Denmark

Denmark has approx. 1.5 million public and private CCTV cameras (as per 2021) ( including cameras owned by businesses/enterprises, private persons, and the police/local authorities (ibid.; Blume 2007: 162). Approximately one million of these surveillance cameras are placed in and around business enterprises, with another quarter of a million placed in and around private properties. Public space cameras are installed by police and local authorities with around 300,000 cameras placed in public spaces. This includes CCTV on public transport thus the definition of public space differs here from the definition originally adopted for this study.

There are different categorisations of public space CCTV in Denmark, with distinctions and objectives between public and private sector CCTV systems less clear (Blume, 2007). In Denmark, public sector CCTV can be seen ‘as a means to protect citizens against different kinds of crime’ and private sector CCTV requires ‘to protect private property and (…) create safety for people in connection with such property (consumers, employees)’ (ibid.: 162).

The most influential and central actor in Denmark’s public space CCTV provision is the Danish Crime Prevention Council. Founded in 1971 as an operational unit of the Danish Police Service, the Council provides assistance to police districts (Wiecek and Sætnan, 2002). The intention of the Council is to provide ‘further crime prevention by carrying out security promoting initiatives, dissemination of information and so on’ (ibid.). Moreover, the Council has been active in initiating debates, publishing a ‘debate brochure’ on situational crime prevention and, more specifically, video surveillance, which discusses attitudes towards prevention and violation.

Within the ‘debate brochure’, the Danish Crime Prevention Council outlines the following five recommendations for (intended) use of public space CCTV in Denmark:

1) Conduct surveillance of things and places – not persons. The use of video surveillance is recommended in cases where it has a crime-preventing or crime detection effect and gives improved security.

2) Clear guidelines for use, storage, transfer of information to third parties, and deletion of information – already when equipment is installed.

3) Assess CCTV based on four central aspects: the preventative effect, the crime detection effect, the safety aspect, and the violation aspect.

4) Differentiate between four fields of surveillance: businesses, workplaces, private spaces, and public spaces.

5) Maintain good sense and be reflective about access to the use of CCTV surveillance.’ (Det Kriminalpræventative Råd [The Danish Crime Prevention Council], 2001: 6-9), quoted in Wiecek and Sætnan, 2002: 24).

In 2019, the Danish Ministry of Justice published 16 initiatives for safety and security in public spaces to address gang-related crime (Justitsministeriet [Ministry of Justice], 2019). The initiatives were developed in collaboration with the police and the Prosecution Service (‘anklagemyndigheden’) with nine of the 16 initiatives related to surveillance either in the form of traditional CCTV or ANPR (ibid.). These initiatives include more CCTV to be installed in and around public buildings and extended access for local authorities, individuals and businesses to install CCTV systems. Provisions for the police include the installation of an additional 300 cameras (including CCTV vehicles) to strengthen the police’s monitoring capacity in public spaces with higher crime rates (ibid.: 5-7).

Denmark introduced POLCAM, a once voluntary but since 2021 mandatory registration scheme (Angermair et al, 2022) for making CCTV cameras owned by private businesses, organisations, and public local authorities who film publicly accessible spaces available for the police to access. POLCAM allows the police access to privately owned recordings when crimes are being investigated. Mandatory registration came into effect in July 2021, with guidance stipulating that ‘registration must be made within “reasonable time”,” and any subsequent significant changes must be registered in POLCAM’ (Angermair et al, 2022). For Danish households with domestic CCTV systems, registration remains voluntary but strongly encouraged ( POLCAM’s purpose is to allow the police a quick overview of CCTV locations and to take over/monitor privately owned businesses and local/public authority surveillance cameras to investigate crime-related incidents such as gang-related shootings and violent attacks (ibid.).

6.3.1 Operation, maintenance and funding

Government documents (Justitsministeriet [Ministry of Justice], 2019) show a collaboration between government bodies and police in implementing, placing, and installing public space CCTV cameras in Denmark, with surveillance being undertaken by the police.

In terms of funding, the Danish government funds public space CCTV through income tax, as Danish residents pay up to approximately 45% income tax ( Some of these taxed funds are then forwarded to the police for the purpose of maintenance and implementation and to limit the strain on police resources.

Between 2018 and 2020 the Danish Government spent a total of 17,600,000 DKK (equivalent to just over £2,000,000) installing additional public space cameras. This funded 150 new cameras between 2018-19 and 300 new cameras in 2020. Several new ANPR initiatives by the Danish Ministry of Justice have received funding as well, which are estimated to cost 63-77,000,000 DKK (approx. £7,500,000-£9,000,000) (Justitsministeriet [Ministry of Justice], 2019: 12).

6.3.2 Governance arrangements and compliance

The Danish Data Protection Agency [Datatilsynet] audits and advises on compliance and protection of personal data, including CCTV use and data (Datatilsynet [Danish Data Protection Agency]).

With the introduction of public space CCTV cameras in Denmark in 1982, the Surveillance Act was written into law. There have only been minor amendments to the legislation since it came into place. The Act states that:

“Private areas such as shops to which there is public access may be surveilled provided information is given to this effect. It is only within such areas that surveillance may take place. It has accordingly not been allowed to film entrances or other areas outside a shop. Streets, parks and other freely accessible areas may not be surveilled…It has accordingly been a major policy point that areas freely used by the general public must not be surveilled by private entities.” (Blume, 2007: 162).

The Danish Surveillance Act also includes regulations outlining the Police’s involvement and advisory role in both private and local authority instalment of CCTV as well as the role of the Ministry of Justice in advising on laws around instalment of CCTV, e.g. that signs must be put up to advise on surveillance cameras in areas where cameras are installed (TV-overvågningsloven, 2007).

6.4 Public space CCTV: Lessons from Denmark

In Denmark, the collaborative partnership between police and government works in implementing and funding public space CCTV cameras, as does the availability of high tax income as a consistent funding source. Implementation of public space CCTV is based on initiatives to improve safety and security from government, with police identifying key locations for the installation of cameras to improve safety and aid criminal investigation (Justitsministeriet [Ministry of Justice], 2019).

Denmark’s POLCAM initiative which mandates CCTV camera registration for private businesses, organisations, and local public authorities, allows police access to footage from non-public space cameras. This enables access to areas that may not be reached by public space CCTV, but this may also raise some privacy concerns. The ICO in Scotland and the rest of the UK similarly implements a required registry of CCTV systems, however, it is not as well-enforced, and it is held by an independent body as opposed to the police.

A more robust registry, such as the Danish POLCAM registry, could provide more information to Scottish law enforcement about private CCTV availability to aid police investigations where public space CCTV footage is not available. The ability to access footage more easily could aid a collaboration between Scottish local authorities, Police Scotland, and other stakeholders, e.g., by decreasing the need for public space CCTV in residential areas and/or retail areas such as retail parks, shopping centres, and high streets by accessing footage and cameras owned by businesses and private persons. However, there would need to be detailed research into the benefits and the legality of such a system before any discussion of implementation as it would represent a significant expansion of police and state surveillance capabilities, as well as public awareness and consent.

6.5 Conclusion

Comparative analyses between Scotland with England and Wales and Denmark provide a wider context to how public space CCTV (and other CCTV systems) are used elsewhere in the UK and internationally. This desk-based analysis highlights the benefits of robust centralised governance and regulation in England and Wales and Denmark and how national coordination and response around emerging issues in these other jurisdictions in relation to CCTV could inform a new approach in Scotland. Two significant findings from this analysis include the role of the UK Biometrics and Surveillance Commissioner in England and Wales and the POLCAM CCTV camera registry in Denmark.

There is no equivalent position in Scotland at the moment for the UK Biometric and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, the Home Office's independent oversight body for the investigation and regulation of CCTV cameras in England and Wales. While Scotland has recently established an office of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner (2020), the role of this office does not include specific governance over CCTV. Currently, Scotland remains under the jurisdiction of the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) for legislative governance, with the DPA serving as the primary legislative reference point. If a similar role were to be introduced in Scotland which could provide encouragement and enforcement to a Scottish public space CCTV code of practice, current CCTV policy and practice in Scotland could become more responsive to the needs of Scottish public space CCTV operators and to those of the Scottish public and best integrate the data concerns in the remit of the ICO.

Responding to emerging issues around the availability of private and citizen CCTV footage, Denmark’s POLCAM registry represents a unique solution to making private CCTV systems available for police investigatory use. While questions remain about the mandatory registration process for the Danish police-operated registry, as well as the quality and efficacy of footage rendered available for police use, this approach to regulating CCTV registration may be more robust and impactful than similar registries in Scotland, however, evaluations of these initiatives and their implementation are yet to be carried out.



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